Melbourne, 28 February 2022 (TDI): The Foreign Minister of Australia, Marise Payne held a press conference on Saturday in Melbourne. She said Australia seeks to join others in imposing direct sanctions on the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

She said Australia has also extended its punitive financial measures to members of Russia’s parliament and more oligarchs. Other nations including the United States, Canada, European Union, and Britain earlier said they would impose sanctions on Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Payne said it is an exceptional step to sanction leaders, but this is an exceptional situation. She added that the government is seeking advice on how to follow other nations in these sanctions.

She criticized Vladimir Putin for having unparalleled personal power over his country. She said he has chosen to go to war against a neighbor that posed no threat to Russia.

She expressed her view that Putin wants to reverse history and take away the freedom and the democracy that the Ukrainian people chose for themselves. She also shared that Australia’s next immediate priority is to continue sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and Russia’s defense industry.

Details of the Press conference

Marise Payne began her Press Conference by sharing she has returned from Europe and Southeast Asia overnight and was engaged in broad discussions on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

She said Europe and Southeast Asia strongly agree and are determined to ensure that Russia faces a high cost for what is a completely unprovoked and unjustified attack on its neighbor.

Australia Position

She shared Australia’s position that the invasion is a wholesale breach of international law. It is a breach of the UN Charter, and the most flagrant violation of sovereignty and territorial integrity that Europe has seen in decades.

She said this unity of partners is extremely important. The international community is responding particularly through coordinated sanctions and measures to inflict a cost on those in Russia who bear responsibility or who hold levers of power.

She said she can announce some additional measures as part of the next round of Australian sanctions soon. She said Australia will take steps to sanction key figures in the Belarussian government who are allied with Russia and who are abetting the invasion.

She added that the next priority is to continue sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and Russia’s defense industry. She said that she is seeking advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to enable Australia to take similar steps.

The UK, the EU, and Canada will also sanction Vladimir Putin himself and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov given the gravity of what they are doing and their key roles.

Questions Answers Session

A journalist asked a question about the new sanctions achieve?

Marise Payne said that the third tranche is about targeting eight oligarchs, people of key economic and strategic significance, and sanctioning 339 members of the Duma (the Russian parliament).

That is being done in close consultation with partners- the US, the UK, and Canada. She said she can list the oligarchs themselves. These are senior figures in mainly state-owned banks and companies, and they are all very close to the President.

They influence decisions and they have amassed great wealth through their positions of power. On a question that will Australia be expelling any Russian diplomats? If so, who?

The Foreign Minister replied that the option of expelling diplomats remains a live option. It is not something that Australia is considering currently. It enables the government to have a direct line of communication with the Russian government.

She said Australia called in the Ambassador to meet with the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to make clear the views of the Australian government.

A journalist asked an interesting question that the Australian government has been quite critical of Beijing’s response.

At the same time, India is exploring ways to set up a Rupiah payment mechanism to soften the blow of Western sanctions and has stopped short of outright condemnation of Russia to date.

He asked: is Australia also concerned about India’s stance and would it encourage India to take a stronger stance?

Marise Payne replied that every country will make its own decisions about how it deals with these issues. Australia has a clear view that it should call out illegal war and coercion and aggression for what they are.

And it will discuss with and is discussing with a range of counterparts their views. She said that Prime Minister Modi has advised of the appeal to President Putin for the immediate cessation of violence.

But it is crystal clear that these actions are the responsibility of the Russian government and the Russian President and them alone. A journalist asked a question about how concerned are Australia’s European counterparts that the Russian offensive will extend beyond Ukraine?

To this Payne replied that their absolute focus at this point is on the support of Ukraine, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. Of course, there are concerns about the barbaric Russian behavior.

Australia is seeing unity amongst like-minded nations like the European Union, through the G7 in conjunction with partners from Australia to New Zealand to Korea to Japan. That unity is essential to deliver the hardest and strongest message that they can.

A question was asked about what would sanction against Vladimir Putin look like?

She replied that Australia will discuss this matter with its counterparts. Every country has a different sanctions regime. They manifest differently, they’re constructed differently.

She said that Australia will determine what steps the US, the UK, and Canada are taking specifically in their systems and seek advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on that.

A Journalist asked a question that with access to the greatest intelligence through Five Eyes and NATO, what’s next for Ukraine and Russia?

We’ve heard that the expansion into Poland, into some of the NATO states, is highly unlikely, and we heard dialogue about a potential cease-fire, Putin wanted unconditional surrender from Ukrainian forces.

What’s the intelligence telling us?

The Foreign Minister precisely replied that she was not going to speculate on intelligence. In a question that, are these sanctions too little, too late though, Payne said that sanctions have been progressively rolled out and they take an amount of time to come into effect. She said they are impactful and significant sanctions, highly targeted, focused, well-coordinated.

An important question came from a Journalist: what discussions is Australia having with other countries about cutting Russia off from SWIFT?

Foreign Minister Payne replied that SWIFT is not something that is in Australia’s gift to implement. But it has indicated that it would strongly support cutting off Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payments system.

It is an international cooperative. But if it were to exclude Russian banks, it would make it harder for Russian individuals and Russian companies to make international payments, and that would add to the high cost that Russia faces and that it should pay for its invasion of Ukraine.